Randy Orton’s next opponent: ‘The Viper’s’ path to the WWE Universal title

Matthew Legros
Randy Orton doing his signature pose as a member of the WWE.

After Randy Orton came up short against Logan Paul and Kevin Owens in a triple-threat match for the United States Championship at WrestleMania 40, fans are left wondering who ‘The Viper’ will target next.

Although Orton did not compete on the first SmackDown after WrestleMania 40, his return is expected ahead of the WWE Draft. The 44-year-old could become a major player in several developing storylines leading up to Backlash France on May 4.

The WWE’s 18th Grand Slam winner earned this rare feat by first winning the Intercontinental Championship in 2004 and most recently the United States Championship in 2018, with multiple world title reigns sandwiched between.

However, Orton has never held the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. The company could set him up to challenge Cody Rhodes later in the year, his 7-0 record in singles matches since returning to the WWE last November proves the former champion is still capable of contending.

But what other names could be on the radar for ‘The Viper’ as he builds a case for a world title shot in 2024? Let’s assess a few exciting options for the WWE matchmakers.


A feud with AJ Styles or LA Knight makes sense

Orton has defeated Grayson Waller, Austin Theory, Sami Zayn, Solo Sikoa, Jimmy Uso and Dominik Mysterio since returning to action from a back injury that nearly forced him into retirement. It’s time to find a fresh foe.

He has only competed in one world title fight in the last two years, a Fatal 4-Way Championship match against then Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns, and two other challengers — AJ Styles and LA Knight at the 2024 Royal Rumble.

Styles and Knight are slated for a match this Friday, April 19 to decide the No. 1 contender for Rhodes’ belt. Orton would be an ideal opponent for whoever loses that bout as he works his way back up the card.

A battle of WWE veterans could be on tap

A strong opponent on the next SmackDown for Orton would be Bobby Lashley. He is a big name and strong ring performer that is right in the mix with ‘The Viper’ for a potential title chase.

The two long-time professional wrestling veterans would put on a thrilling fight for the fans, as Lashley’s sheer power couples well against Orton’s technical prowess inside the ring.

Lashley, a former United States Champion, is 5-1 against top fighters of late. His one loss was against LA Knight on April 12 during the first SmackDown after WrestleMania 40.

A rivalry between the pair – two of the longest-tenured superstars on the WWE roster– could position either one for a final world championship push as their careers draw to a close.

Santos Escobar is a sleeper option

Aside from Lashley, the 44-year-old could also be pitted against Santos Escobar. The Mexican wrestler’s last singles win came against Rey Mysterio on the March 22 episode of SmackDown.

Escobar likes to kick opponents, which serves as a great counter to the lethal RKO finisher. Stylistically, both fighters contrast.

Orton is heralded as a fundamentally gifted in-ring performer, while Escobar has a series of maneuvers that could bother the headhunting and grappling of the 22-year veteran.

They have yet to face off in the squared circle, making him a prime target for Orton. On the flipside, a win over an established veteran could catapult Escobar up the ladder as well.

Will Randy Orton fight Cody Rhodes?

It may take some time, but Orton could be in line to go head-to-head with Cody Rhodes later in the year. The men have a tumultuous history spanning back nearly two decades.

Rhodes broke onto the WWE scene as Orton’s stablemate in The Legacy. Turning their former allegiance on its head would fall in line with the more rugged and confrontational style the promotion has embraced in recent years.

Rhodes’ Undisputed WWE Universal Championship run is merely at its beginning stages. Though he may not break title records like Roman Reigns before him, the third-generation superstar would face a major hurdle if the WWE puts Orton in his way.

The drama that any promos would create would make major waves in the build-up to the fight, while each wrestler’s proficiency inside the ring would produce a potential match for the ages.

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About The Author

Matthew graduated from Brooklyn College in 2022 with a Bachelor's degree in Communications. In the past, he's written for Heavy Sports, Sports Illustrated, and SB Nation. On top of penning scripts for Empire Sports Media, Matthew covers the latest NBA, NFL and Boxing news for Dexerto. His expertise lies in basketball, with a personal passion for track-and-field. You can contact him at matthew.legros@dexerto.com.